In 2003 I went to see Cesaria Evora perform at the Ottawa Bluesfest. Already a fan, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see her live – as it turned out many others were as well.
She seemed a little uncertain and stiff when she took the stage – Bluesfest was perhaps an odd venue for this reticent singer who was already well into her 60s. But the crowd was so enthusiastic and supportive that she warmed to us as with each song the applause grew louder, the joy more palpable.
The only English I remember her speaking was when she said, ‘Thank you’, but as she warmed to us, she also talked to us more in the Portuguese-based Creole spoken in native Cape Verde. We didn’t understand a word, but we cheered and applauded and she beamed back at us.
About halfway through the concert, the woman known as the “barefoot diva” said something which was likely to the effect that she needed a break. The spotlight was turned off and she sat down on a chair beside the grand piano, lit a cigarette and sipped on a drink. While the band played, we could see the smoke from her cigarette drifting above the stage as she leaned back and listened to the music.
After the song, the Grammy-winning singer rose again, came to the front of the stage and picked up the mic. We cheered our welcome and the show continued.
Sad to hear that this legendary singer passed away today in Cape Verde, her small country of islands off the coast of West Africa. Cesaria Evora had turned 70 in August. Her music has been compared to Billie Holiday’s jazzy-blues, combined with Brazilian and African style rhythms and sounds. It’s very soulful and beautifully sad.
Cesaria Evora did not become known internationally as a singer until well in her 40s. Her performances were understated – all about the music, not about the performer. Having grown up in an orphanage, she was familiar with poverty. She always performed in bare feet, a symbol of her solidarity with the people of her impoverished country.
Rest in peace, Cesaria Evora. Thank you for your beautiful music.